It's possible one of the more stressful parts of having food allergies is being invited to events where it's likely nothing is safe to consume—for example, a traditional holiday meal with all its potential for allergy-packed trimmings. But you know what else is stressful? Hosting that aforementioned holiday meal for someone who has food allergies. If your idea of a successful celebration happens to include the happiness of an individual who has their own ingredient-filled no-fly list, never fear. Here are seven tips for hosting a holiday meal where everyone feels welcome, whether they can tolerate that heavy whipping cream or wouldn't touch a pie crust (or the pecan inside it) with a ten-foot pole.
Address The Issue Head-On
The best place to start this endeavor is at the beginning. Don't wait until the week before your gathering to feel out the food allergy situation: Ask your guests if they have special dietary requirements along with your invitation. Or, if you already know which allergies you're dealing with, send a follow up message to the guest with restrictions with your questions, concerns or ideas. Which means…
Make a Plan
Successfully hosting an allergy-friendly holiday meal doesn't mean you have to ban all possible allergens from the menu—unless you want to. By planning ahead and knowing your menu and strategy, you'll leave yourself the time and flexibility to ask questions and make changes if necessary. You'll also save yourself the stress of last-minute menu changes, which can be a hassle. Especially if they require another trip to the grocery store.
Sometimes it's hard to let go of the traditional recipes you haul out each holiday season in favor of a restriction-friendly dish, but you never know which alternatives will become your new favorite addition to the table. (Let's just talk about these vegan mashed potatoes for a hot second.) However, if you can't quite bear to part with those family treasures and aren't sure how to adapt them, it's perfectly acceptable to present two choices, like one regularly scheduled dish and one allergy free option. One quick note about adapting recipes: If you're new to allergy-friendly cooking, it's often simpler to look up a recipe created to suit your specific need than to try and modify one on the fly.
Take Preparation Seriously
If you forget everything else on this list, remember this one thing: With severe allergies, preparation matters. This means never, ever mixing the dairy-free dish with the same spoon you just used to scoop heavy cream, or accidentally dropping nuts into the salad and opting to pick them out instead of starting over. Cross contamination is important to take seriously—so be dedicated to cleaning your surfaces, hands and prep bowls in order to avoid it. It's also essential to really read your food labels. Things like gluten and dairy, for example, have a nasty way of sneaking into places you'd never expect to discover them.
Accept Offers of Help
Unless you're already accustomed to holiday gatherings with a potluck-style approach, it may feel strange to ask or allow guests to bring additions to the meal. But if a guest who deals with a food allergy offers to bring something, let them. Having at least one dish they know without a doubt is safe may make their time less stressful and more enjoyable, especially for those with a severe intolerance.
Unless you are planning a meal that avoids the foods your guests are allergic to in totality, it's an excellent idea to clearly label which items are safe and which should be deemed off limits. One genius way of doing this is to flag the utensils themselves—say, all of the green utensils are allergy free, but anything with a red utensil contains a potential allergen. Another helpful idea is to keep the packaging labels of foods and ingredients you weren't sure about so guests with allergies can double-check them before choosing to consume the items in question.
Always Over Communicate
No matter your plan, no matter your guest list, never be afraid of being too clear or asking too many questions. Guests with serious allergies will appreciate knowing exactly what they can and can't safely eat and it's always better to err on the side of knowing or communicating too much—if that's even possible when it comes to allergies and intolerances. By prioritizing clear communication, you'll end up with an allergy-friendly holiday everyone in your home can enjoy.
Do you host allergy-free holidays? Share your tips and tricks in the comments below!